A Narrative Hobbyist’s Guide to Writing Speculative Fiction
The First Step is to Share What You Have
When starting on an adventure, it’s good to have a realistic appreciation for the journey ahead.
My purpose in these essays is to examine the basics of short story writing from a very specific perspective.
Becoming the editor and publisher of DreamForge Magazine was one of my dreams, the adventure of a lifetime. With no previous publishing experience and a life-long love of science fiction and fantasy, my wife Jane and I decided to take a stand on the side of hope for humanity. After all, the human adventure is just beginning, and we were growing a little weary of apocalyptic thinking.
So, we turned a little attention away from our day-jobs (running a web and software development company) and founded DreamForge Magazine.
At DreamForge, we took the view that although there are challenges ahead as well as dire consequences for failure, we all belong to one of (perhaps the) most inventive, imaginative, and capable species the universe has ever produced. Together, we can make our future bright.
Our readers believe this too, and as we found, over time, many of our subscribers, supporters, and helpers also enjoy writing speculative fiction.
Writing, at its core, is one of the most hopeful acts possible, as it both assumes an audience and longs for a readership beyond one’s time.
In putting together DreamForge, it’s been my privilege to work with our First Line Readers in evaluating hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of stories —many more stories than we could ever publish— and to correspond with a significant number of hopeful writers.
As we went, we realized we were not only learning our craft in editorial selection, we were learning about stories too. And about writers and their hopes. The stories we chose for publication often had certain qualities, and those we returned without considering for a contract had a few equally universal attributes— things we could soon tick off as though we had a check sheet for evaluation.
For myself, I also learned, somewhat painfully, how to communicate with authors. In my day job, I work in a marketing environment where customers are not shy about telling you “Yeah, this doesn’t work for me at all; start over.” Add to that the fact that I am by nature a smartass, and my initial critiques to submissions, while never deliberately cruel, were sometimes less than charitable.
Authors, as it turns out, are often sensitive people. Speculative fiction authors are, more often than not, rather nice people too. As Frank Burns once said in M.A.S.H. “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”
Therefore I do regret stepping on some toes along the way. Sorry, guys. (This is why everyone who plays games with me is happy to gang up and take me on as their primary mission.)
Nevertheless, on balance I believe that, along with my First Line Readers, we managed to do more good than harm. DreamForge published its share of first stories and heard from more than one hopeful contributor that our comments helped them improve their tales and get published elsewhere.
Then came 2020, the year of the pandemic. In time it became clear that subscriptions were not growing at a rate that would allow us to continue, at least not in our lush, full color, highly illustrated print format we had hoped to sustain.
Worse, our day-job is a business, and like every other small business took a substantial COVID-19 hit. So, Jane and I found that more and more of our attention would have to turn back to the basics of meeting payroll and keeping our wonderful staff employed and less to running a magazine on the side, however amazing and fulfilling that experience had been.
But still, we didn’t want to take everything we’d learned and just box it away.
And that is the origin of DreamForge Anvil.
We decided to turn a passionate attention to storytelling, and to do it in a way that benefits authors, especially those at the beginning of their own adventure with writing.
In 2021, all proceeds from DreamForge Anvil will go to our authors (and some to illustrators). All our time is volunteer. We’re here to pay for stories, publish stories, help authors improve their stories, and to help others understand through example some of the things we’ve learned about making stories better.
There are many such writing classes, books, webinars, and resources available. Yet based on our experience, there may still be an overwhelming number of people who still need their share of helpful advice and guiding insights. We’ll just deal with the ones who come our way, or who happen to find our approach speaks best to them.
We’re not here to assure anyone we can guide them to the promised land of publication. Instead, we’re here to share what we’ve learned and help aspiring writers gain a better grasp on some story telling basics and more practiced scribblers improve their approach to aspects like character, conflict, plotting, and world building.
Writing is enormously fun, challenging, and rewarding.  I’m privileged to have learned some things I’d like to share. That’s what DreamForge Anvil is all about.